At the dawn of the space tourism era, what self-respecting explorer hasn’t toyed with the notion of a truly out-of-this-world trip? Sadly, the cost of a ticket – US$20 to $40 million – puts the prospect into the realm of travel fantasy for all but a few.
But would-be space cadets need not despair, for there is a way to boldly go, if not in body then at least in spirit. NASA is calling for the public to submit artwork for a journey aboard a spacecraft bound for an asteroid called Bennu.
The US space agency wants people to submit photos, poems and more that reflect what it means to be an explorer. The artwork will be saved on a chip aboard the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which launches in September.
We asked a handful of Lonely Planet staff to prepare for blast-off by reflecting on their endless exploration of Planet Earth.
Colours from another world in Iceland
Our guide Thor drove us in a mega-wheeled 4x4 and then led us on foot across an otherworldly landscape of volcanic rocks and sands to reach this cave in the Vatnajökull glacier in southern Iceland. Inside the cave, the multi-hued blue of the glacial ice was astonishing, unlike anything I've seen before or since. Glacier caves shift and disintegrate in summer due to glacial movement and melting, so the team of guides have to discover new caves each winter.
Anna Tyler – Destination Editor for Southern Europe. Follow her tweets @go_AnnaT.
Oman's shape-shifting sands
Sharqiya Sands covers about 12,500 sq km of Oman. Apart from nomadic groups of Bedouins, there are no permanent settlers – it's just an empty, ever-changing erg (sand sea) of dunes stretching to the horizon. I spotted this couple trekking along the ridge of a dune to find a spot to watch the sunset; seen from below, the binary landscape of bronze sand and blue sky looked so abstract, so alien, that they might as well have been exploring another planet.
James Kay – Editor, lonelyplanet.com. Follow his tweets @jameskay123.
In awe of the aurora in Finland
Just south of the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is the gateway to Lapland in northern Finland. For an Australian used to long, sweltering summer days in December, this land of snow-covered forests and just a few hours of daylight was a long way from home. A short late-night hike and a long wait was rewarded by the majesty of the Northern Lights, a beacon to storytellers, scientists and explorers throughout human history.
Daniel Corbett – Content Architect.
The edge of reality in New Mexico
White Sands National Monument consists of more than 700 sq km of dunes stretching across southern New Mexico. You could mistake this for a snowed-over landscape if you didn't know it was the world's largest gypsum dune field. The earth is dramatic here, the platinum drifts giving way only to the dusky Organ Mountains in the distance. Although only a few hours' drive from where I grew up, this is a place that makes me feel at once tiny and insignificant, yet full of wonder for what the universe holds.
Megan Eaves – Destination Editor for North and Central Asia. Follow her on Twitter @megoizzy.
A ray of light amid the rain in India
The tiny village of Mawsynram is celebrated as the wettest place on earth. It even inspired a famous travelogue – Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater – which was part of my inspiration for travelling to rarely explored Meghalaya in India's restive northeast. It had been drizzling for days as I travelled across the plateau, but the skies cleared as I reached Mawsynram, and a single beam of light shone down perfectly on the Nohkalikai cascade, India's tallest waterfall, like a message from the divine.
Joe Bindloss – Destination Editor for the Indian Subcontinent. Follow his tweets @Joe_Planet.
A bird's-eye view of Botswana's waterworld
Occupying up to 15,000 sq km in northern Botswana, the Okavango Delta is the scene of an annual battle between Angolan floodwaters and the sands and heat of the Kalahari. The waters always lose, but in their death they give life to an array of African flora and fauna. While 4WDs and mekoro (dugout canoes) provide incredible access to wildlife in limited sections of this epic delta, the only way to truly explore the landscape is to take to the air. Flying low over its expanse offers a unique perspective on the ever-shifting relationship between water and land.
Matt Phillips – Destination Editor for Sub-Saharan Africa. Follow his tweets @Go2MattPhillips.
Yoga on the mountaintop in North Carolina
The Appalachians are one of the world's oldest mountain ranges – while they aren't as tall or snowy as the Rockies, they are a different kind of beautiful: one can hike to a ridge and see the mountains fade into the misty blue for miles. The Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, a southern section of the Appalachians, are exceptional. This photo was taken on Black Balsam Knob, a clearing from which we watched shape-shifting shadows move across the landscape. We explored the peaks and valleys, discovering not only magnificent views, but also crystal-clear waterfalls, high-altitude meadows, and impressive rock formations.
Bailey Johnson – Destination Editor for Central America and the Caribbean. Follow her tweets @The_Traveling_B.
The parallel universe of England's 'desert'
Home to a nuclear power station, the desolate Dungeness Estate has become known as the 'desert of England'. While it fulfils none of the criteria which would classify it as such, it gives you an eerie sense that you have entered a parallel universe – a post-apocalyptic world where little has survived bar strange vegetation that doesn’t quite know whether it belongs in the sea or on the land. Exploring the shingle, I stumbled across the remains of this fishing boat. Like so many of the landmarks on the estate, it urges you to piece together its mysterious history: Where did it come from? Who did it belong to? How did it get here?
Rebecca Law – Public Relations Manager. Follow her tweets @Olivelaw.
A hidden valley in the Catalonian Pyrenees
Vall de Nuria is an enchanting, little-visited valley nestled in the Pyrenees just an hour’s drive outside Barcelona. We took this photo on the rocky trail from Queralbs to the valley itself; with a base elevation of 1964m, you can either trek or take Europe’s highest rack train there. The scenery along the route included hidden waterfalls, sheer drops and jagged mountains fading into the distance. For me, exploration is about really getting to know a region – however close to home – beyond its most obvious draws.
Maria McKenzie – Social Media Coordinator. Follow her tweets @MazMckenzie.
NASA is accepting submissions for the Bennu mission, which may take the form of a photo, sketch, graphic, poem, song, video or some other form of creative or artistic expression, via Twitter and Instagram until March 20.
Got a photo from your travels that reflects the spirit of exploration? Find out how to submit it to NASA at asteroidmission.org/WeTheExplorers – and share it with @lonelyplanet too, including the hashtag #WeTheExplorers.